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A Mighty Girl's top picks of bullying prevention and empathy-building books for young children.
“The End of Bullying Begins With Me” is the message of National Bullying Prevention Month and at A Mighty Girl we believe that’s absolutely true! By teaching our children about bullying — what it is, the effects it has on everyone, and the ways that we can stop it — we can work to ensure that bullying becomes a smaller and smaller part of all our lives.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a series of three blog posts featuring Mighty Girl anti-bullying resources for all ages. In this first part of the series, we’ll showcase books for preschool and early school-aged children that address bullying from a variety of angles, while in the two remaining blog posts, we’ll recommend resources for tweens and teens and resources for parents and educators.
For Mighty Girl books on bullying prevention for older girls, check out our post, Taking a Stand Against Bullying: Bullying Prevention Books for Tweens and Teens. For bullying prevention resources for adults, visit our post, Leading the Way: Bullying Prevention Books for Parents and Educators.
Of course, these are just a selection of the great anti-bullying books out there. For more books for all ages on bullying, visit our Top Books on Bullying Prevention for Mighty Girls special feature or our Bullying & Teasing book section.
For the youngest Mighty Girls, bullying behaviors can happen because they’re still learning that others have feelings like their own. While empathy is natural, it’s also a skill that can be improved with practice. By reading these books with your Mighty Girl, you can help her develop her understanding of what it’s like to be another person and how it would feel to be the victim of teasing or bullying.
It's natural for kids to notice differences, so it's important to tackle that head-on — before kids get to thinking that these differences should exclude people. With his distinctive, bright illustrations, Parr tackles all the differences that kids observe in the people around them — from skin color to family makeup to favorite foods and activities. Each page reminds the reader that these differences are not only okay, but wonderful! His calm message of acceptance will remind your Mighty Girl that differences are what make us special.
Chrysanthemum’s beautiful name attracts negative attention when she goes to school, where everyone else has “normal” names like Victoria, Sue, Max, and Bill. Hearing the other kids mock her for her “flower” name makes Chrysanthemum totally miserable — until their music teacher, Miss Delphinium Twinkle, shows her and her classmates how varied the people in the world are, and that “normal” is just a word.
The kids at school don’t know what to make of Velvet, who brings a milkweed pod to show and tell and likes to collect rocks. At first, they avoid this confusing child. But when Velvet wins an art competition after drawing a picture with only eight crayons, her peers start to understand that Velvet’s unique, imaginative view of the world is what makes her an interesting friend!
This unique series of three books tells the story of the same instance of bullying through the eyes of the three participants. Luisa is teased by popular girl Sam for everything from speaking Spanish with her family to wearing polka-dot boots. Jayla, a friend of Sam’s, initially joins in, but eventually refuses to participate any longer and befriends Luisa. Within each book, though, details are revealed about the emotional lives of the three girls involved. Weird! shows free-spirited Luisa losing confidence because of Sam’s bullying until support from others gives her the courage to be herself. Dare! reveals that Jayla has been Sam's target before; because Jayla understands how painful teasing is, she develops the courage to stand up to Sam. And in Tough!, we find out that Sam believes that meanness is part of everyday life, but rethinks how she treats others when Jayla stands up to her.
This popular book uses the metaphor of invisible buckets to describe self-esteem. McCloud teaches kids that everyone has one of these buckets, and that people feel good when the bucket is full and sad or angry when it’s empty. By showing how you can “fill” a bucket (through kindness, compassion, and appreciation of others) or “dip” from a bucket (by being mean or exclusionary), kids can easily understand how their actions affect others’ emotions. For another book by the same author to explain "bucket filling" to younger children, check out Fill A Bucket: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Young Children, which is suitable for ages 2 to 6.
Chloe and her friends won’t play with Maya, who wears hand-me-down clothes and plays with old toys; eventually, Maya stops asking. Soon after, Maya moves away. But when Chloe’s teacher invites her students to think about how small kindnesses might affect the world in unexpected ways, Chloe has a revelation — she can’t think of a single time that she was kind to Maya, and now that Maya is gone, the opportunity to offer her even a small kindness is gone forever. However, the book also ends with a positive implication: if everyone resolves to extend kindness to everyone they meet, the ripples will extend around the world.
Ludwig wrote this book to illustrate how comments that can seem funny can still be hurtful. Maya’s friend Bailey loves to spread rumors about the troubles in other children’s lives, but when Bailey hears Maya’s parents fighting and turns it into a rumor that they’re going to get divorced, Maya realizes how painful this “trouble talk” can be. Both the school counselor’s advice to be friends with “kids who make you feel safe,” and seeing how hard Bailey has to work to heal the hurt feelings she’s caused, are good lessons for school-aged kids.
In this classic empathy-building book, classmates sneer at Wanda for wearing the same faded dress every day. Wanda’s insistence — obviously a lie — that she has a hundred beautiful dresses at home only earns her more derision from her peers. Then her father sends a letter to her teacher that they’re leaving town because of the mockery the whole family has suffered. And Maddie, a classmate who never joined in — but never stopped it, either — realizes that she can never apologize for what people said to Wanda. Ashamed at how she aided Wanda’s torment, Maddie resolves that she is “never going to stand by and say nothing again.”
Of course, even if your Mighty Girl knows that bullying is wrong, she’ll need some guidance about how to handle a bully. These books will give you an opportunity to talk about different ways to handle a bullying situation, whether your Mighty Girl is a bystander or the target of the bullying.
Little Sally McCabe escapes everyone's notice... but nothing escapes hers, not even the bullying happening on the playground. And when Sally doesn't see anyone fixing the problem, she decides to take action and discovers that even someone very small can make a big difference! This fun rhyming story, written by a Grammy Award-winning musician, has a catchy rhythm that makes it perfect for reading aloud -- and also helps the message about the power of bystanders to end bullying really hit home.
Marlene has appointed herself queen of...well, everything! On the playground, on the sidewalk, or in the corridors of the school, she insists on dominating every other child — until the moment that big Freddy stands up to her. His confident declaration that she is "just a bully" breaks her meanness into dozens of pieces. Reformed Marlene still maintains her mischief, but now knows how to take others' feelings into consideration.
Willow's class is excited when Kristabelle starts handing out invitations to her amazing birthday party, but then Kristabelle starts using the threat of taking invitations away to dominate her peers. Willow can’t find the words to speak up, but she demonstrates her disapproval by crossing her own name off the invitation list. And when the rest of the class joins her, and Kristabelle realizes what a mistake she’s made, it’s Willow who leads the class in welcoming back their friend. This story about the power of the bystander is a great way to talk about taking action, as well as to remind kids that mistakes can be forgiven if you show you’re sorry.
Ralph makes fun of Lucy for everything, from her curly hair to her favorite snack. Lucy remembers her grandfather’s advice that not everyone has to like the same things, but Ralph keeps hurting Lucy’s feelings, even when she tells him to stop. When Ralph ends up tangled in the monkey bars, though, Lucy realizes that right now, he’s not a bully, just a scared, upset boy who needs help. After she helps Ralph get down, he realizes that kindness and compassion are what matter, not the differences between people.
This story features a Mighty Girl who refuses to be intimidated by a bully. Freckleface Strawberry loves her early morning program at school...except when it rains, which means playing dodgeball inside with Windy Pants Patrick, the school bully. She tries to ignore him, but one day, she comes face to face with Windy Pants — alone. Fortunately, by summoning up her inner monster, she’s able to overcome her fear of the dodgeball and the bully. And when she does, she discovers that he isn’t as scary as she thought.
Sometimes it's a new classmate who turns the bullying situation upside down. Mary Jean is The Recess Queen — people do what she says, or else! But when a tiny girl names Katie-Sue arrives, she does what she wants instead. Mary Jean is on her way to a meltdown when Katie-Sue does something REALLY surprising: she asks Mary Jean to jump rope with her! Soon, the two girls are playing happily, as are the rest of the kids on the playground. This book not only shows that sometimes bullying can be resolved without adult intervention, but also casts a light on one aspect of bullying: sometimes bullies are bullies because they’re not sure how to be friends.
Sometimes bullies are so subtle that kids aren't sure what's happening. Monica and Katie have been friends for years, but now, Katie embarrasses or excludes Monica in front of their classmates. Monica is hurt and confused — why would her friend do such a thing? Fortunately, with some help from her supportive mother, Monica learns that Katie is making Monica feel worse to make herself feel better. With a few strategies to handle Katie, Monica feels confident again. One of the few books for younger children that addresses more subtle relational aggression, this book firmly drives home the message that no one deserves to be the target of this behavior.
In the past, kids could escape bullies when they went home from school, but now it’s important to acknowledge that bullying can extend beyond the schoolyard. In this book, Jamie befriends Lyla, a newcomer to the sixth grade, and helps her get a cell phone and a Facebook page to feel more connected. Jamie’s advice works — so well that, when Lyla makes the cheerleading squad, she becomes part of the popular crowd. But Lyla realizes that the popular girls are cyberbullying people, including Jamie, and refuses to be a part of it. Then the bullying really hits high gear as the popular girls take their revenge on Lyla. The end of the book is the question “What would you do?”, making this perfect for generating discussion; its emphasis on the challenge of cyberbullying also makes a good prompt for discussing Internet safety.
If stories like these are too realistic for your Mighty Girl, a little fantasy and humor can go a long way to helping kids dive into difficult topics! Roxie knows what to do if she’s lost in a desert, caught in a storm, or buried by an avalanche...but not what to do about Helvetia’s Hooligans, the school’s pack of bullies. But when Roxie and the Hooligans end up stranded on an island — with a pair of thieves, no less! — the Hooligans will have to depend on Roxie to get them all out of there safely. While your Mighty Girl isn’t likely to end up finding food, water, and shelter for her bully on a deserted island, Roxie’s resilience and determination are a great model for any girl who feels like she can never overcome bullying.
While everyone hopes that their child will never get caught up in bullying, the truth is that almost every child will be involved in it, whether as the victim, as the bystander, or even as the bully. However, by teaching children empathy and giving them skills for handling bullying, relational aggression, exclusion, and other form of bullying, parents and educators can help create the positive, empowered community of kids that we need in order to have bullying become a thing of the past.